Stay afloat financially if a flash flood strikes

Is your home fully covered against a storm? asks Melanie Bien
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The devastation that heavy rainfall wrought last week in the Cornish village of Boscastle and on the Scottish hills was a stark reminder of our vulnerability to extreme weather.

Water levels reached nine feet in Boscastle as flash floods washed cars down the hillside, and many homeowners had to be winched to safety by helicopter. Days later, teeming rain caused landslides on one of Scotland's most popular tourist routes at Lochearnhead, Perthshire.

Global warming is behind the torrential rainfall, with the risk of flooding set to rise tenfold over the next century, according to the Environment Agency.

The Government recently promised at least £564m over the next three years to improve flood defences in Britain, but with burst banks causing £800m of damage each year (based on estimates from insurer Norwich Union), there is plenty of work still to be done.

It's vital that your home, car and possessions are all fully insured. Check your existing cover, particularly if you live in an area at risk of flooding, to be certain you have accurately estimated the cost of replacing all your belongings. Andrew Wood at Royal Liver Assurance warns: "Failure to [protect your home properly] could lead to a payout that isn't adequate to meet the costs of flood damage."

As the threat of storm damage rises, homeowners are also advised to review their buildings policy. Outbuildings such as a garden shed or greenhouse should be included in this.

Think beyond your own boundaries, as well. "If a tree from your garden fell on a neighbour's car or damaged their property, you might have to pay for this. So check you have accidental and personal liability cover in your home and contents policy," says Richard Mason, director of the price- comparison website

As storm damage becomes increasingly common, however, some householders may find that they either struggle to obtain the level of cover they need, or that they have to pay much higher premiums.

"Few insurers decline to cover storm damage as a rule," says Mr Mason, "but it may not be long before they do. Norwich Union has already launched its flood map, and More Th>n has announced its intention to add storm risk to the other risks that it already maps, such as subsidence. So, many more people who were once able to get reasonably cheap insurance could see their premiums increase."

Flood mapping identifies all those properties at risk of being flooded. John Hollis, home product manager at More Th>n, says: "We are able to determine the individual risk for every home in Britain. Over the next 12 months we will be developing our mapping system to include storm damage as well."

Now that Norwich Union's flood map has been rolled out across the country, for the first time, premiums are based on the risk to an individual property rather than on the postcode: good news for those whose houses are no longer deemed at risk, but not for those judged high risk, who face potentially massive premiums.

As the images from Boscastle demonstrated, it's also worth taking a look at your motor insurance. To guard against flooding, it will need to be com- prehensive, not third party.

"Car flood damage does not just affect stationary vehicles caught in flash floods, but more often, drivers who try to take their cars through excess water on the roads," says Mike Pickard, head of risk and underwriting at esure. "It only takes around two feet of water to float a car and much less for water to be sucked into the engine and cause extensive problems."

Direct Line has produced a free guide on how to limit the damage caused by severe weather. Call 01473 320407.